REMEMBER the Lada Niva? It was a functional, fun-loving little SUV which cost thousands less than its big-money rivals.
It was a car ahead of its time. Sadly, it’s no longer produced for the UK, which is good news for its modern-day rivals like the Dacia Duster, tested here.
We have plenty of 4x4s and SUVs to choose from but they generally don’t come cheap. Functional models like Toyota RAV4 and Suzuki Vitara have been punted upmarket which leaves a gap for affordable models like the Duster.
If you’re not familiar with Dacia, you soon will be. Dacia - pronounced Darcher - is a Romanian brand now owned by Renault, which explains why they are becoming a familiar site on our roads.
Dacia is essentially the cheap and cheerful wing of the Renault brand and it produces a string of acceptable cars of which Duster is undoubtedly the best.
So, what do you get for your money? Well, quite a lot. Considering Duster starts at under £10,000 and most of its rivals are above £15,000, you can see why it appeals.
To say it is so affordable, it has quite a quality look about. It looks solid, almost Tonka Toy in style and it feels built to last.
Inside, where many cheaper cars come unstuck, the Duster again impresses with simple but easy to use controls. The satellite navigation system is situated awkwardly low and is hard to view when driving, but other than that there is little to complain about.
Duster has been around since 2010 and is becoming quite established but the latest version just out is much improved. It has cleaner and smarter styling and better specification. There is a new top-of-the-range Prestige trim level model but it still markets itself as ‘shockingly affordable’.
Instantly identifying the new Duster are new, squarer headlights, the revised front end styling adding to the SUV’s purposeful appearance.
The model tested here has a new engine. It is a 1.25 litre TCe unit which provides plenty of power. It reaches 60mph in 10.4 seconds and cruises at motorway speed with aplomb. The handling is a little old school but that’s part of the price you pay for buying an SUV.
Available on Lauréate trim and above, the inclusion of the new engine in the line-up means that customers now have the choice of a petrol or diesel variant at every trim level.
Standard equipment on the Duster has been upgraded, with DAB radio as standard from Ambiance trim and new interior upholstery on all trim levels. Additional changes to the interior include the dashboard now in a dark carbon finish, whilst there is a new satin chrome centre console surround and steering wheel inserts to match.
There are also several new options available on the new Duster, such as 16-inch ‘Tyrol’ diamond-cut alloy wheels. Rear parking sensors are also available for the first time as a factory-fit option, while a rear parking camera is now available as an option on Lauréate trim and above. All new part-leather ‘Aspira’ upholstery can be specified as an option.
All versions of the new Duster can be specified with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
Dacia Duster Laureate TCe 125 4x2
PRICE: £13,390. Model starts at £12,895
ENGINE: A 1,197cc four cylinder diesel engine generating 92bhp
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 109mph and 0 to 60mph in 10.4 seconds
COSTS: Town 38.7mpg; country 51.4mpg; combined 46.3mpg
INSURANCE: Group 11
WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles
Suzuki Vitara: A good-looking model which rides well and has terrific off-road performance, too. It looks good and has great heritage. From £14,749
Fiat 500X: Fiat is trying to take advantage of the 500 by launching spin-off models and the 500X is one of the best. At £14,295 it is expensive compared to Dacia
Renault Captur: Looks more like a high estate rather than an SUV and this model is smoother looking than the Nissan Juke. It is capable and well-priced at £14,575 but still more than the Duster.